The British Medical Journal recently published an article stating that forcing nurses to complete work experience before they begin studies will not improve nursing standards.

The article comes after a recent report said that nurses should work as healthcare assistants before studying to become nurses.

However, Elaine Maxwell says that there is no evidence to support this and it does not take into account the cognitive skills needed for nursing these days and assumes nursing is all about caring.

She uses figures to back her argument which give examples that a greater number of hospital deaths were associated with a greater proportion of healthcare assistants and another study which reported that for every 10% of degree educated nurses in the US there was a 4% drop in patient mortality.

Maxwell also claims that as nursing is the biggest healthcare workforce, it has a large overlap with medicine and any skill deficiency in that department will have an effect on staff.

She also raises the issue that if this idea of making nurses serve as healthcare assistants becomes a reality, those who maybe would enter the nursing profession may be put off if they have to delay beginning university to work as a healthcare assistant, not to mention what happens if the current workforce of healthcare assistants has to give up their jobs for nursing students.

Maxwell concludes the argument by stating that to improve nursing standards it’s important to support the existing workforce to ensure they practice high standards of care.

However, Prime Minister David Cameron said that the level of care provided by the NHS had to be better and ensuring nurses get more basic skills training was a part of this. He continued by saying;

“...nurses should spend some time when they are training as healthcare assistants in the hospital, really making sure that they are focused on the caring and the quality, and some of the quite mundane tasks that are absolutely vital to get right in hospital.”

Acknowledging that the move would be controversial, Mr Cameron said that it’s about making sure the level of care is right, not just about spending the money well.

This whole controversy has come about from the report by the Francis Inquiry which highlighted significant neglect, incompetence and abuse over four years leading up to 2009 and blatantly accused the NHS of putting corporate interests above patients.

However, the report also provided a list of 290 recommendations for improvements, of which the suggestion that nurses serve as healthcare assistants before university was not one.

Instead they would like to see a minimum staffing level introduced to tackle the problem of patient care rather than the current proposal the government is considering. 

Written by Sara Thomson

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